Thursday, August 18, 2011
Sweetwater by Mickey Minner
Publisher: Regal Crest Enterprises
Western movies and novels used to be a staple of the American entertainment industry, but they seem to have been supplanted in recent years by products with a more scientific theme, although films like Star Wars are nothing more than cowboys and Indians in space. Sweetwater has a tone that is reminiscent the old Saturday movies that often featured serialized Western stories.
Jennifer Kensington finds her life too constraining. She wants to work in the family business, but her father wants her to do what other young women in Boston in the late 1800s do - get married to someone who will enhance the family's standing in business and society. When Jennifer can't convince him that she's not interested in that, her answer is to run off to the West to become a teacher and experience some of the adventure she craves.
In Sweetwater, Montana, Jennifer meets Jesse Branson, who owns The Silver Slipper, a successful restaurant and rooming house, and a ranch. The two women are instantly drawn to each other, but immediately encounter problems. Someone who is trying to destroy Jesse's reputation also threatens her life. That is followed by a dangerous visit to the town of Bannack, where they have to deal with a murderous sheriff and a foundling child. As the women struggle to clear Jesse's name and deal with these other incidents, they build a relationship that brings them both the warmth and acceptance for being themselves that never existed in their respective families. Around them are clustered a supporting cast of characters that adds depth to the story and a flavor of the Old West.
The book starts with a disclaimer that says "…it describes a West that the author wishes had existed and not the historical reality of many situations." If the reader has any knowledge of the true history of the West, there will have to be some suspension of belief when this story is read. It's difficult to believe that a town would accept a 16-year-old school teacher who lives openly in a lesbian relationship with another woman, no matter how respected that woman is. The character of Jesse rings a little truer as a woman who gambles with men, runs her own business and has a ranch, because the West was famous for the increased opportunities it provided to women, but sometimes it's a stretch to think that she would be accepted also with no questions.
Once you get past those images however, Sweetwater is an entertaining book. The descriptions of the environment are vivid. The settings can be clearly visualized and what detail there is appears to be accurate. There is the sense of being in one of the old serials as the reader gallops from one adventure to another and the characters are appealing. Because Jesse and Jennifer are somewhat naïve, their growing awareness of each other and their attraction is tender and will remind the reader of the discovery and awkwardness of first love. The story could have been set in any time and place, but the choice of 1800's Montana gives the book a unique flavor. It should provide several hours of pleasant entertainment.